Tuesday, December 15, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Expanse' - Jim and His Crew Fight for Survival While Adrift in Space in 'The Big Empty'

Syfy's The Expanse - Episode 1.02 "The Big Empty"

Holden and crew fight for survival in a badly damaged shuttle. Miller uncovers clues to Julie Mao, as water rationing hits Ceres station. On Earth, UN Deputy Undersecretary Crisjen Avasarala interrogates a belter terrorist.

The Expanse had plenty of ambition and potential in its first episode yesterday. The various pieces of the show just didn't come together in a way that made the overall experience all that cohesive. That's still a major problem throughout "The Big Empty." The stories are still isolated into three distinct areas: Jim's ship where the crew is fighting to survive in the isolation of space, Miller on Ceres station as he continues his job and his off-the-book investigation into Julie's disappearance, and Avasarala on the ground on Earth trying to get information out of a suspected terrorist. All three of these stories are happening at the same time. And yet, none of them are really able to match the energy and tone as the other two. It's a weird blend for the show. It's easy to understand how they are going to be connected. Avasarala is uncovering a conspiracy that will then play out in space while Miller is investigating the disappearance of the girl who was the reason why Jim and his crew left the Canterbury before its destruction. It's just one of these stories is vastly more entertaining than the other two which makes it irksome that that the show is trying to do too much too soon. The good news is that it's relaxed into its plots a little more in this episode which should signal better things to come.

"The Big Empty" does provide a bit more information on who Avasarala actually is. She is a Deputy Undersecretary for the UN, which now controls the entire planet. As someone else points out, she's third in line to be the ruler of the entire planet. That's a lot of power and control. Her willingness to torture this suspected terrorist instead of the more humane treatment and actually talking with him shows that she isn't afraid to bend the rules in order to maintain the order in the universe. However, the world is changing. She's not able to get any solid information from this man from the belt. And then, he promptly kills himself when given the opportunity. Something is definitely amiss in this corner of the show's universe. It's much more straight-forward than the other two stories. It keeps it simple. However, it doesn't have enough energy to actually make it all that engaging.

Meanwhile, the Miller story largely just confirms how vital water is on the Ceres station. It is the one resource that controls this entire community. A whole civilization has formed in this place that can harvest water for the rest of the universe. And yet, they have to ration water in order to keep everything in balance. It's the one resource that cannot be messed with - which makes it the perfect target for terrorists. It's more important than anything else. Miller can't allow anyone to get away with tampering with the water supply. It's a concern that everyone in this community has to deal with. It's a rather broad story because it largely just gives Miller and his new partner something to do. He is taking his investigation into Julie seriously. But he still has to do his regular job too. So, any kind of progress is very slow moving. He uncovers that the ship Jim and his crew responded to was Julie's. That was the ship she had been working on and not the one that her family owns. But that's about it. It's a story that doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Miller lets the kid he catches who tampered with the water supply go. That will probably come back to haunt him later. Maybe then it will have significance.

Jim and his crew needing to survive in a ship that only has a limited supply of oxygen is a truly engaging story. They are forced into action that actually builds character because of the urgency of their situation. They are all reacting to the horrible disaster that has just happened on the Canterbury. They are all angry and upset that all of their friends have just been killed. They don't know why that unknown ship fired. They can't even reasonably go after it in order to get answers. They have much bigger technical problems just in order to survive themselves. They can't afford to react passionately. They need to think practically because their ship has been damaged as well. They need to fix those problems. They can't just go off into space because they would then die as well. So, the killers escape and there's nothing Jim and his crew can do about it. The need to fix the ship is a precarious situation. One with actual life and death stakes. It's a tone that the show really does a great job in executing. It's engaging to watch and is actually compelling in the moment. The characters are still being developed. Jim is still the only one with immense value but the others have their moments as well - such as the doctor risking his own life to save another and the woman thinking much more rationally than her male counterparts. They are successful in getting their radio strong enough to send their own distress signal. However, it just signals more doom for them for the immediate future.

The space vessel that responds is the head ship in the Mars space fleet. That's dangerous because Jim and his crew have been led to believe that Mars is the only civilization that could have developed such stealth technology. Mars is a part of this universe that has not been seen yet. It is largely shrouded in mystery. That makes them compelling and nefarious figures right away. Even though Jim and his crew have been rescued, they walk immediately into more danger. Jim thought he was doing the right thing in sending out a message declaring Mars responsible for the destruction of the Canterbury. But all that reasonably does is make them prisoners aboard the Mars ship. It won't be an easy predicament for this crew to get out of. And that's what makes it compelling. Sure, Jim acted in the moment and didn't consult with the rest of his crew before sending out that message which then doomed their fates. That action will have consequences that should be intriguing to see play out as the Mars element of the story comes into larger focus next week.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Big Empty" was written by Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and directed by Terry McDonough.
  • It's amusing that Miller is upset that he can't finish his shower because of the need to ration water and then he continually gets drenched throughout the remainder of the hour - sometimes on his own free will and sometimes by accident on the job.
  • Gravity being used as a weapon by both sides is an intriguing argument for the state of society. People have to adjust their handling of people from space simply because of this massive change on their bodies.
  • Two people on Jim's crew are apparently an item. Jim uncovers that information as the guy is trying to determine whether or not Jim should live considering the amount of trouble he has gotten them into. It's not that great but it doesn't distract too much from the overall story.
  • That Mars ship is massive compared to the vessel Jim and his crew are on. Plus, the sight of all of them being held at gunpoint was a fantastic final image.